Sikh Movement

Learning Goals:

Followers of Baba Guru Nanak: The number of followers of Baba Guru Nanak increased through the 16th century under his successors. They belonged to various castes, predominantly traders, agriculturists, artisans and craftsmen. This could have some relation with Baba Guru Nanak’s insistence that his followers should be householders and must adopt productive and useful occupations. They were also expected to contribute to the general funds of the community of followers during the period.

Baba Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

He was born in Talwandi (Nankana Sahib in Pakistan). He travelled widely before establishing a centre at Kartarpur (Dera Baba Nanak on the river Ravi). He established a regular worship for his followers there that consisted of singing of his own hymns. They ate together in the common kitchen called langar irrespective of their caste, creed or gender. The sacred space thus created by him was called dharmsal, now called Gurudwara.

Before his death, he appointed one of his followers, Lehna as his successor. Lehna came to be known as Guru Angad, signifying that he was a part of Baba Guru Nanak himself. Guru Angad compiled Guru Nanak’s compositions and also added his own compositions in a new script called Gurumukhi. Guru Arjan in 1604 compiled the compositions of all the three successors of Guru Angad. To this compilation were added the writings of other people like Shaikh Farid, Sant Kabir, Bhagat Namdev and Guru Tegh Bahadur. This compilation was authenticated in 1704 by his son and successor Guru Gobind Singh. It is now called Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of Sikhs.

Amritsar: The town of Ramdaspur (Amritsar), by the 17th century, had developed around the central Gurudwara called Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). It was virtually self-governing. The early seventeenth century Sikh community is called ‘a state within a state’ by modern historians.

The Mughal emperor Jahangir considered them as a potential threat and ordered the execution of Guru Arjan in 1606.

The Sikh movement

The changes in the historical situation during the 16th and 17th centuries influenced the development of the Sikh movement. The Sikh movement began to get politicised in the 17th century, a development which culminated in the institution of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in the year 1699. The Khalsa Panth, a community of Sikhs, became a political entity.

Guru Nanak’s teachings: He emphasized the importance of worshipping one God and also that for attaining liberation; caste, creed or gender was irrelevant. His idea of liberation was not that of a state of inert bliss but that of pursuit of active life with a strong social commitment. The essence of his teachings used words like nam, dan and isnan which meant right worship, welfare of others and purity of conduct. His teachings are now remembered as nam-japna, kirt-karna and vand-chhakna. These also underline the importance of right belief and worship, honest living, and helping people.

The ideas of Baba Guru Nanak had a deep impact on the development of the Sikh movement from the very beginning. His idea of equality had social and political implications.


Nayanars and Alvars

There were 63 Nayanars who came from different caste backgrounds like potters, untouchable workers, peasants, hunters, soldiers, Brahamanas and chiefs. Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manikkavasagar were the best known among them. Tevaram and Tiruvacakam were the two sets of compilations of their songs.

Alvars also came from equally diverse backgrounds. There were twelve of them. Periyalvar, his daughter Andal, Tondaradippodi Alvar and Nammalvar were the best known among them. Their songs were compiled in the Divya Prabandham.

Martin Luther

There was transformation in the religious front in Europe as well, in the 16th century. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the most important leader of the changes that took place within Christianity. He felt that many teachings in the Roman Catholic Church went against the teachings in Bible. He translated the Bible into German since he wanted the language of ordinary people rather than Latin. He was against donations to the Church as a means to gain forgiveness from sins. Many Protestant Christians sects trace their origins to his teachings. The growing use of the printing press helped in wide dissemination of his writings.

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